Have we been acting like Basil Fawlty over Europe?

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 22 November 2011 in Diary
Our language in describing the eurozone crisis leaves a lot to be desired, says Alexander Wickham

Last week Tim Montgomerie made a particularly cogent point about how the British media has been reporting the eurozone crisis.

In light of the increasingly important role of Angela Merkel and the German government, the ConHome editor implores: ‘can we talk about Germany without resorting to World War II imagery?’

This is a question that merits considerable thought. Have our newspapers and commentators been justified in their suspicion of German motives over the last few weeks? Can any ‘imagery’ relating to her colourful history be deemed merely as harmless and jocular? Or has the British media been guilty of treating Germany with a tasteless lack of respect and, as Montgomerie claims, of acting like Basil Fawlty?

There is some evidence to suggest that the British government should be casting a wary eye toward Berlin.

Documents leaked over the last few days have revealed that the German foreign office has been drawing up plans for a new body that would allow Brussels to take control of struggling eurozone economies. Boris Johnson reasonably argues that the events of recent weeks have damaged democracy in Greece and Italy; it seems Slovenia and Slovakia could be the next nations to cede sovereignty. Flagrant scaremongering aside, there is nonetheless something credible in fears that an entrenched and complete fiscal union will leave Germany in a more influential position than ourselves.

But does that really equate to claiming, as Simon Heffer did in last Thursday’s Daily Mail, that Germany is attempting to establish a ‘Fourth Reich’ that will eventually ‘conquer Europe’?

Such rhetoric has become a worrying norm in certain circles over the last few weeks. Another piece in the Mail, by Richard Littlejohn, was accompanied by a cartoon entitled ‘Springtime for Merkel’, depicting the German Chancellor as Adolf Hitler. The Telegraph’s Simon Winder notes that ‘Germany’s attempts to dominate Europe militarily ended in utter moral and physical disaster’, going on to make the comparison with today’s situation, or as he sees it: ‘Germany’s more recent attempt to dominate Europe’. The job of chief-provocateur was left to a politician; UKIP leader Nigel Farage told his MEP colleagues that ‘we are now living in a German-dominated Europe...something that those before us paid a heavy price in blood to prevent’.

This imagery could simply be dismissed as banter; a playful exchange between the more eccentric members of the British political class and their German counterparts.

But surely the words of Heffer, Winder, Farage et al are more than that. Europe faces an incredibly grave economic crisis, one that will not be solved cheap and immature sniping. Perhaps those spouting the Second World War rhetoric would be best advised to forget the playground name-calling and focus on finding some answers to the problems we face.

Our newspapers should resemble a wealth of diverse and constructive analysis; during many past crises it has been the media that has steered the way towards the solution.

We don’t want Basil Fawlty at the helm.

Alexander Wickham is a freelance journalist who writes for the New Internationalist, the Adam Smith Institute and the Huffington Post, amongst others. He tweets at @Wickham_A

Tags: Angela Merkel, Basil Fawlty, European Union, Eurozone, Germany, Nigel Farage, Simon Heffer, Simon Winder

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